2007 Books 31 - 40

31 .Pompeii by Robert Harris - A fast, light read that devotes the bulk of the pages to the day before Vesuvius erupted, but the bulk of the action is in the few pages that tell what happens after the volcano goes off. The historical information is interesting enough, but I never really cared about any of these people because they never were made flesh - they exist to tell the story, not be the story. Even real person Pliny the Elder suffers, as he only seems to be in the story to give it a touch more realism, not to have an affect on the people he comes in contact with. I also had a problem with the dialog. Sometimes it is anachronistic, sometimes there's too much of it, and way too often, it's dull.

32. Bittersweet by Nevada Barr - Bittersweet indeed! Beautifully told tale of the love between two women in the late 19th century and how they made a life for themselves, sometimes on their own terms, sometimes by bending the truth. The ending is sad (of course), but honest for historical accuracy. Nobody writes about the wilderness of America like Nevada Barr, giving the reader a sense of place that is a character unto itself.

33. Winkie by Clifford Chase - A "we lost our innocence on 9/11" allegory about a teddy bear that becomes real. And then "he" has a cub. And then he gets arrested for terrorism. And then he's charged with just about every crime you could charge someone with who dares to be different. And then the government makes a mockery of the judicial system and the press becomes a pawn of the government. And there's more, but it really must be read to be enjoyed. This is a very original and well written story about fear mongering, personal freedoms, but most of all, staying true to yourself.

34. Christine Falls by Benjamin Black - Benjamin Black is the pen name of Booker award winner John Banville . Writers say they use pen names when their other name is well known so that books in different genres can stand alone - there's no bleed over of expectations. In the case of Christine Falls, those expectations are there anyway, because the publisher marketed the book on the idea that it was writing it. Good call by the publisher, because if an unknown had written this book, it would have been a so-so first novel that got a little attention for the subject matter (young single mothers being taken advantage of by a creepy group that wants to make sure there will always be Irish Catholics) and would have been criticized for being a character driven story with dull, two dimensional characters. Better luck next time, if there is a next time.

35. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollen- If you live in the United States and are responsible for feeding yourself or someone else, this is a must read book. (Outside the US, you'll probably still learn a lot, but the book is about the industrialization of the American diet.) Pollen follows various food chains from the beginning (really the beginning- how they evolved into something humans could turn into food) to the end, when we consume them. Along the way, he explores the different paths those foods can take, and how those paths might be changing our health and our culture. What could have been a book that shocks and alarms is instead a book that informs without being the least bit preachy or dull. As a species, humans can eat almost anything we want, but the book begs the question, should we eat anything we want?

36. Gertrude of Stony Island Avenue by James Purdy - An empty nest story told in the usual style of Purdy - lots of dialog that reveals very little, lots of internal dialog that tell the real story, and characters who seem determined to be unhappy. This one's a little different, in that Carrie, the mother who finds herself without a child shows more gumption than the usual female in Purdy's books. She's lived to other people's needs her whole life, and now with her estranged grown daughter gone and her husband dying, she begins to look for a life of her own. I'd recommend this only for people who are fans of Purdy, otherwise, there's just not much here.

37. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini - Okay, so I'm extremely late to the party on this one. It's been a best seller off and on for a couple years, it was on every "best of the year" list imaginable, but I had to be perverse and deliberately not read it. My loss. This really is a very good book, both as a tool to understand a part of the world that has been very misunderstood, and also because, for the most part, it's a darn good story. I thought the ending seemed forced into the "it'll all work out eventually" mode, but up until that point, I was truly engaged by this book.

38. Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier - If this had been Chevalier's first novel, it would have been pretty good. But coming after the almost perfect Girl With Pearl Earing, this story seems flat and forced. It's as if the author decided she wanted to do this time period, found a historical figure (William Blake) to write around, and failed to come up with an actual story that involved that character. The sense of time and place is good, but the story about the country family trying to make it in London goes no where. It's a narrative without a purpose.

39. Grave Writer by Mark Arsenault - A simple story that tries to blend the genres of thriller, mystery, and courtroom drama and doesn't quite make it on any level. The mystery is incredibly predictable, but the characters show some originality: A former prize winner crime writer, now obituary writer, draws jury duty and is assigned to a case that helps him work through his obsession with revenging his wife's death. Along the way, he almost realizes he's got a great kid and a handicapped father who's ready to make up for lost time.

40. Atonement by Ian McEwan - Part character study, part historical fiction, all good book, this is the story of two sisters and an old family friend who's lives are changed drastically when the youngest sister acts with her imagination rather than common sense. Especially good for writers and want to be writers, because at the center of this all is a fabulist that went too far with her story.

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